ETC Executive Coffee: Universal Execs Talk Content Creation

During Universal Pictures’ second appearance in ETC@USC’s Executive Coffee with… series, executives led a discussion with students on content creation and virtual production. Annie Chang, VP of creative technologies, and her colleague media technology manager Lindsey Townley addressed pandemic and post-pandemic content production concerns with 13 USC students from cinema, business, engineering and innovation. The framing topic for the October 9 session was “What kind of engaging entertainment experiences do you want to create, how do you expect to create them, and what will your working environment be like?”

Anne Brashier, a cinema grad student currently shooting a documentary, discussed her experience working with a geographically distributed 8-person crew. She described logistics, such as training her documentary subjects to shoot themselves and each other, and the process of gathering and managing the footage.

Blaine Morris, another cinema grad student, described her experiences shooting a feature in quarantine over the summer. Fellow cinema grad student Marc Merhaj has been surprised at how well virtual collaboration tools have worked in his production. Cinema production grad student Rasheeda Garner described how the pandemic has impacted production planning and preparation work.

Morris voiced concern that the additional cost of COVID rules compliance could greatly impact students’ ability to get their projects made. Universal’s Annie Chang pointed out that what the students are doing is redefining the future of content production.

The group shared experiences with tools, resources and asset management. They discussed how both new tools driven by the pandemic and emerging technologies are creating new storytelling options. Garner pointed that if you don’t include COVID in your story elements then you are either writing about the past or the future, and an interesting challenge is finding ways to capture “now.”

As the discussion turned to diversity in the industry, cinema production grad student Kendra Mitchell said that one obstacle to increasing diversity is that many positions are “family businesses” making it hard to break into the position. The other barriers she mentioned are low entry level pay, lack of health insurance, and sometimes the requirement that you have your own equipment. Garner added that some diversity programs do not feed into permanent positions, so they are less effective at building long-term diversity than they could be.

For more of the discussion, check out the 11-minute highlight video online.

The ETC@USC’s Executive Coffee with… Series

The Entertainment Technology Center at USC produced a series of virtual “executive coffee discussions” during the Fall semester. These one-hour discussions provide an opportunity for students and ETC member company executives to connect and discuss topics of mutual interest during this period of remote learning and social distancing.

For each session an executive posed one question or topic, students from across USC submitted brief statements of interest, and the ETC invited between 5 and 16 students to participate in the Zoom meeting. Each session was recorded and an 8- to 13-minute highlight video was produced.

The sessions were hosted by Verizon (September 23), Universal Pictures (September 29 and October 9), Fox Corporation (October 14), Equinix (October 22), ETC execs (October 29), Vubiquity (November 4) and Dolby Labs (November 12).

The videos are available on the Executive Coffee with… page online.